Who knows where that coif-and-comb man will turn up next? Robin Weir in "People." Robin Weir on TV in Shanghai. Robin Weir at the British Embassy, styling a Lady's hair while Charles and Diana get dressed down the hall.
And of course, Robin Weir in the White House.
These are heady days for the Washington hair stylist who got his start when he was 10 years old and gave his younger sister a home permanent on the sly. "The results," he says some three decades later, "were less than pleasant."
But good things come to him who makes the cut: a six-figure income and a platinum-colored Mercedes. Twice-weekly calls to style Nancy Reagan's hair. First-name relationships with Joan (Rivers), Diahann (Carroll), Victoria (Principal) and Zsa Zsa. A television show in August before 1 billion viewers in China. And, especially since his "Donahue" appearance last week, a phone that seldom stops ringing.
Robin Weir & Co. has never been hotter.
The salon, located at 2134 P St. NW, is on the lower level of a strip that includes a leather shop, a small food market, a sun-tanning business and Chilean deli. It is staffed by as many as 15 hair stylists, including recent English import Phillip Hodgkinson, recruited, in part, as a bow to the current British mania. The interior is serviceable linoleum, plain chairs and buzzing hair dryers.
On a recent day, a manicurist applied silk and acrylic nails to the fingers of a chronic nail-biter. Near the always-hopping receptionist's desk, two smartly groomed women spoke in knowing tones: Yes, they agreed, the Prince and Princess of Wales love each other very much, no matter what the rumormongers say. The VIP Room was temporarily unoccupied.
Last week was a particularly busy period for the salon. "Hundreds and hundreds" of people telephoned for appointments and consultations after they saw Weir with Phil Donahue, receptionist Nancy Halterman said.
What's more, there was all that royal business. Innumerable guests at royal parties clamored for emergency "dos", and Weir and Hodgkinson had to prepare to fly to Palm Beach tonight to coif the socialites there during part two of the royal couple's visit. Nobles from five of the "Treasure Houses of Britain" currently on display at the National Gallery of Art swooped in to be pampered as well. But the Princess, it must be noted, brought along her personal hairdresser, Richard Dalton.
Weir, a dark-haired man in an ivory-colored shirt, black slacks and a Gucci watch, relishes the excitement. It's exactly what he always wanted.
As the oldest of eight children growing up on Capitol Hill, Weir asserted himself early when his stepfather, an IBM computer programmer, presided over the family haircuts.
"Once a month, he'd line up the six boys and give us a buzz cut with clippers, the type of clippers you get when you save Top Value stamps and turn them in," said Weir.
"One day, I said, 'Hey, I don't want that. I want my hair styled.' And my father said, 'I'm not going to pay $1.25 for you to get your hair cut.' So I collected pop bottles and mowed lawns to get the money."
During his "Elvis period" in high school, Weir said, he dyed his hair black, and on graduation enrolled in a D.C. cosmetology academy. He worked first at a couple of area shops and then, 10 years ago, bought his first salon. It was "a four-chair business" in Foggy Bottom sold for back taxes at a public auction. Weir paid $1,000.
His celebrity client list began to grow when Virginia Knauer, special adviser to President Reagan for consumer affairs, became a regular customer. She recommended Weir to Elizabeth Dole, currently secretary of transportation, who recommended him to Nancy Reagan, which led to a recommendation to comedienne Joan Rivers and so on.
"There's quite an interesting trail there," Weir said.
Weir made his reputation on a combination of business and promotional savvy, personal attention and a well-known inability to say no, regardless of the hour a distressed client might call begging for a comb-out.
Never a trend-setter in the hair-styling world, he never tried to be, he said.
"I like a woman like, say, Eva Gabor, whom I'll be doing in Palm Beach," he said. "If you had a picture of her and took the face away, you could still tell from the hair style who it was.
The same with [British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Reagan, Lady Di. They already have their look."
These days, Weir, who celebrates an "annual 30th birthday" but won't reveal his age, has a full-time publicist and three agents.
He carries his speech-and-slide show called "Washington Under the Dryer" around the country, advises salon owners on business techniques and does numerous color-consulting duties for Clairol and other beauty firms.
His computerized client list has grown to 3,500, including about 300 men. Despite Weir's celebrity status, his prices remain comparable to other area shops: $16 for a cut by a member of his staff, $25 if Weir himself wields the scissors.
As salon owner, Weir accepts no tips, but does enjoy the perks that accompany his status.
A thoughtful client recently returned from Hong Kong with a belt for her favorite hairdresser; another returned from France with a Louis Vuitton duffel bag "to match my luggage," said Weir, who is single. And to simplify the matter of gift-giving, Weir's china selection -- "a masculine red, white and blue pattern" -- is registered at Martin's of Georgetown.
The walls of his VIP room, just off the main styling area, are plastered with autographed photos of pleased celebrity clients, including actresses Polly Bergen, Donna Mills and Linda Gray, comedian Rip Taylor, Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) and Margaret Thatcher.
"Dear Abby Loves Robin," wrote the advice columnist across her picture. "What's Nancy Reagan really like?" asked Joan Rivers in the postscipt to a congratulatory letter.
"The VIP room is actually just an extra room for people who have had cosmetic surgery or want coloring done in private," Weir said. "Sometimes we put the more famous people in there to isolate them a little bit, the people who would have to spend so much time glad-handing otherwise.
"One time, an ambassador's wife was having some streaks done," he said. "Her hair was sticking out in all directions with foil attached to it. In walked an ambassador from elsewhere and she almost died. She hit that VIP room so fast the foil flew."
That's as naughty as Robin Weir gets. The hair stylist is steadfastly discreet when quizzed on such topics as:
The First Client: "I like her very, very much. The President is there a lot. When he comes in from work, he goes straight to her and kisses her. I have to look away -- my parents were not that lovey-dovey, and it's kind of embarrassing. Mrs. Reagan works constantly. She's always working on papers, correspondence, while I'm doing her hair. She doesn't sit under a dryer and read Vogue."
Who Has the Best Hair of All: "Margaret Thatcher. Really. She has fabulous hair. Incredible shine and manageability. It's a very coiffed style, but that's her style. She's not avant-garde."
The Hairdresser as Ear: "I'd rather people not confide in me. I'd rather not know. You can't separate the gossip from the personal things sometimes, and if you repeat anything, it'll only get back to you.
"My mother used to say, 'Only two people should know, you and God, because a third will tell.' That's a good business policy."